Ten years ago, Leighs welcomed the arrival of the first nervous yet excited team of carpenters from the Philippines. A call for skilled trades was required to meet the rebuild requirements of a broken city. At the time, in the rubble of Christchurch, there was a national shortage of skilled workers to complete large-scale construction projects. Speaking to individuals across the organisation, it was a ground-breaking decision that would shape the next decade at Leighs, and change the lives of the workers and the company for the better.
Looking back, when Leighs decided to recruit a team of carpenters from the Philippines, this was a progressive solution to the post-quake and recession recovery staffing shortages. Not long before the decision to directly employ a team of carpenters, Leighs had finished the NZ Embassy in East Timor, and on that project, they had worked with a wonderfully skilled team of Filipino carpenters; this created confidence in the decision to proceed on this unchartered path.
One of the key contributors to such a successful employment outcome was the Recruitment Consultant Jess Senior. She was instrumental in making this a successful employment venture, going above and beyond to find the very best people. Anthony Leighs shares, “ Within a week of the first contingent of workers arriving, any fears were quickly erased. There was very quickly an absolute appreciation of 1. They were great guys, 2. They were hard-working and 3. they had fantastic really broad skills. One day they could pour concrete the next day, they were hanging a door.”
When you migrate to somewhere unknown, you sacrifice the comforts and security of your home, language, and people in the hope of something better. These men took the leap of faith; none of them had ever been to NZ before. When meeting with some of the men about to celebrate this milestone, I asked them how they are feeling now that they have been here ten years: Nick, currently on our Hillmorton site, replies, “ I am so happy and grateful to have been with the company for ten years”, this was all part of his master plan to settle and commit to the company, he never thought that he would move on, he stays because he is happy here. All the people he met when he arrived were friendly and warm. Most importantly, the career opportunities here have expanded his skills and experience. He appreciates the mentoring and coaching he has received on the job, and as luck would have it, he prefers the NZ climate to work in.
Due to pressures on the Christchurch housing market at the time, one of the big considerations was accommodating the new arrivals. Leighs bought a lodge out near Oxford to accommodate the men, and Craig who has been with Leighs for 22 years shares “ I got a call from Anthony, can you get out to the Lodge, we are having problems with the doors, the guys are on the flight on their way”. He arrived there to a flurry of activity, people making beds and setting out welcome packs. Anthony shares “It was Jen Kean, whose extraordinary leadership and project management skills, made the impossible happen. The Lodge needed a lot of work in a very short amount of time to make it liveable, and she took up the challenge. Also essential to the time in our history was Ray Dyer, managing the lodge, with southern hospitality.”
Over the years of life at the lodge evolved from very humble beginnings to include a commercial kitchen, and a full-time Filipino chef was employed. A basketball court was laid and there was a small gym on-site. It was attention to detail like these that have established the reputation Leighs enjoys as an employer of choice for the construction industry. Fond memories of the new arrivals and the established Leighs team with BBQs, basketball, and karaoke, are mentioned by everyone when they talk about this era.
There were many big and small key life milestones over the years, all part of establishing and immersing yourself in a new life. Craig who worked alongside and mentored some of the team at the time says with a laugh, ”Milestones like when I went to pick up Rolly and I said no lunch today? and he replied “no boss, I am going to buy a pie and V. I said you are a kiwi now!”
Other significant moments include the arrival of your family, getting a driver’s license, permanent residency, and buying your first home. Craig shares further “The transformation has been awesome, I loved seeing what they have achieved. They have sent every cent home to look after their family, they also jumped into kiwi Saving straight away and some managed to save to buy a house.”
It becomes obvious throughout all these conversations that there is warmth, genuine care, and pride in the work and relationships that have evolved over the years.
Gary Walker CEO shares, “As an immigrant myself I know how hard the transition can be to a new country, different culture, and language, but getting into the habits and protocols of a different work-life cadence and political landscape can be challenging, so it’s pleasing to reflect on how everyone has connected to create the thriving community we have today. Our community will grow again because, after a very slow and at times frustrating journey with immigration following Covid lockdowns, we will be heading back to the Philippines next month to find more staff keen to join Leighs and build a life in NZ”. We are currently organising a big Leighs celebration and reunion in Christchurch for February 2023. There will of course be basketball, karaoke, and a Filipino food feast.